Before you adopt a dog, make sure you are ready for a dog. That sounds blindingly obvious, but it still bears repeating. Think about why are you adopting a dog? Are you making a purely emotional decision? You might be like me and walk past a group of puppies that need homes, so you grab one (Ollie) and bring it home with you without much thought*. I don’t recommend this, even if it did work out for my family (mostly because my wonderful husband did all of the thinking about consequences). Impulsively adopting a puppy is how I started out in rescue, and it was a great experience. However, I’ve seen a lot of dogs that this didn’t work out for, dogs that were subsequently abandoned, given away, or dropped off at a shelter when things didn’t work out. If you let emotions make the decision, you very well might adopt a dog that isn’t right for you or your family. Save yourself, and the poor dog, from an unhappy ending by thoroughly thinking ahead now.
*I have changed my ways. I carefully consider the addition of each dog that comes into our home now. If I didn’t, we would have 37 puppies, 3 pregnant dogs, 7 seniors, 2 blind and deaf dogs, and a mini pig at The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs.
Adopt a Dog 101……there are some important questions to ask yourself:
Is the whole family on board?
-Do you or any of your household/family members have allergies or health issues that may be negatively affected by a dog?
-Is anyone in the home intolerant of potty accidents, shedding, barking, muddy paws, wet-dog smell? Stress in the home can exacerbate health and behavior problems in a dog. Dogs are very perceptive. If there is resentment, they will feel it.
-Is there an adult in your family who is willing to be responsible for the dog’s care? Ask yourself who is going to do the dog walking, feeding, and taking the dog to vet appointments? Seriously, who is going to scoop the poop?
-Do you have any other dogs or cats or pigs… and how will they react to a new pet?
Which dog should you adopt?
This is really important. Somewhere out there is the perfect dog for you, (or at least one whose flaws you can tolerate with a smile). If you are lucky enough to be adopting a dog from a foster home, you can find out a lot about the dog before you even meet it. Yay for fosters!
Please, please ask yourself – What are you hoping to get from the dog? In other words, why do you want to adopt?
-What do you expect the dog to contribute to your life? Are you looking for an easy-going couch potato buddy, or do you want a running/hiking buddy? Long, ambling walks on the beach? Or fetch in the backyard? My advice: choose a dog with an energy level equal to or lower than your own. If you generally just want to chill in front of the tv, and you have a dog that wants to run and play, you will have a frustrated dog. A bored dog can be destructive. Then again, if you are very active, and you get a dog that just wants to lie around all day, you are going to be frustrated. You want to find a dog that fits you and your life.
–The breed is not the dog, but do consider the characteristics of the breed. Do a little research; what breed of dog would be the best fit with your lifestyle.
-Do you need a dog who will be gentle with and tolerant of small children? Some dogs are better with littles than others.
-Would a younger or older dog would be a better match for you? If you are thinking of adopting a puppy, do you have the time and patience to work with the dog through potty training, teething and chewing, and basic obedience training?
–Would you consider a senior dog? Seniors dogs in a shelter are just so sad. Maybe their owner died, or maybe they were given up by an owner that cannot afford their health care needs. In the shelter they get overlooked for the cute little puppies. I love puppies, but puppies can be a real pain in the ass. A senior dog is often calm and easygoing. They may need less exercise, but can be great couch buddies. They will almost certainly need more health care than a younger dog – and purchasing new insurance for an older dog can be cost prohibitive.
Once you know the dog that you are looking for, breed, age, size, etc., consider fostering a dog. That way if a dog is perfect, you foster fail and adopt it. YAY! If you decide that this particular dog isn’t a match for you, you have learned more about what will and will not work for you and you try another one. Your foster will be the perfect dog for someone else, and you will feel great about helping the dog and its new family connect. Fostering is a wonderfully rewarding way to find whether you’re ready to take on a new dog, without fully committing. The Cecchine Hotel for Dogs has had 25 foster dogs so far, and now I know all about different breeds and temperaments, what I can live with, and what drives me crazy. There was one that I couldn’t live without (Bailey), so we adopted him.
So, now that you have an idea of which dog might be right for you and your family, consider how well you can schedule a dog into your life?
-How will your work obligations and your social life affect your ability to care for a dog?
-Dogs need to be fed two to three times a day, and need to be routinely let outside for potty breaks and play/exercise. A puppy can’t hang out in a crate for 8 or more hours without a potty break. You will need someone to let the puppy out often. A young dog with an abundance of energy requires more exercise and training than an older more sedentary couch potato dog.
-Dogs with long coats may need 15 to 20 minutes a day of brushing to prevent matting. You can count on a lot more time spent vacuuming a home with a long haired breed. A single Siberian husky blew my mind when it came to shedding. I loved Sasha dearly, but her shedding was a lot of work!
-You should plan to spend at least one hour per day giving direct attention (training, exercising, grooming, and playing) to your dog(s). If your life is so over-scheduled with work and kids that you don’t have an hour to spare, then you do not have time for a new dog.
-Puppies adjust to a new home rather easily, but older adopted dogs may need additional bonding and reassurance time in the early weeks or months in their new home.
-Do you travel for work? Vacation often? Will you take the dog with you when you travel? How big of a dog can you travel comfortably with?
If you are thinking of adopting a dog, think of it like adding a family member. Adopting a puppy = having a baby. Adopting an adult dog = maybe your friendly mother-in-law is moving in. Adopting a senior = welcome grandma! It means your life priorities are going to need some adjustments. Puppies have potty accidents, dogs bark, seniors have vet bills, etc, etc. If you are about to welcome a new family member, and you have a beach trip coming up but grandma isn’t welcome, then no beach trip. You are going on a cruise in a few weeks? Nope, not a good time to leave grandma in a cage with a stranger feeding her. Do you get my subtle point here? I see this all too often. People make a snap decision to adopt a dog, but they haven’t thought about all of the other stuff going on in their lives and the fact that the new family member needs to be considered. Whether you are welcoming a puppy or a 4 year old or a senior dog into your home, the dog needs time to adjust, feel safe, and learn your rules. I have seen a puppy returned because it peed on the floor and a dog left at a shelter because the family got a new sofa. The puppy just needed patience and more training. If your dog is chewing furniture, it needs training, not euthanization.
Whether a dog is coming from a shelter, or has been through a shelter and then a foster home, they need a calm and consistent environment after you bring them into your home. They need time to decompress. They also need for you to teach them the rules of the house. If you fail to do that, the dog will ultimately fail you, (and maybe chew your couch). The environment we bring a dog into is very important for a successful experience. Are you prepared to provide a dog with a structured life that has rules, and consistent boundaries? This is important. Dogs do not often come to you pre-trained. Can you train and handle a dog with behavior issues? Are you willing to take the dog to a trainer if necessary. Can you afford that?
What does it cost to have a dog?
Adopting a dog requires a financial commitment to the animal’s health and well-being. Please, sit down and think about what a dog is going to cost. Its not just food and toys, there are vet bills, and yes, the cost of boarding a dog while you are on vacation (at some point in the future, when your dog is fully adjusted to your home). There seem to be a lot of costs that people overlook or do not expect. I’ve tried to provide a comprehensive list for you. This is taken from Petfinder.com
Expenses in the first year *estimates based on a survey of pet parents around the country-may be higher/lower depending on where you live and the dog you adopt.
-The rescue or shelter will charge a fee to help defray the cost of taking in homeless animals. The dog will be up to date on immunizations and neutered or spayed if it is old enough.
Nutritional Supplements $0-100
Food/water bowls $10-40
Dental/chew toys $20-200
Routine veterinary exam $45-200
Emergency veterinary care $0-2,000+
-These are unexpected costs: Accidents and illness can result in costly emergency veterinary care. Consider pet insurance.
Heartworm test $0-35
Heart worm prevention $24-120
Fecal exams $10-30
Flea/Tick prevention $200-500
Professional teeth cleaning $60-500
Grooming tools $20-250
Professional grooming $0-1,200
Stain/odor removers $10-100
Doggy bed(s) $25-100
Boarding, per day $15-50
TOTAL IN THE 1st YEAR: $766-$10,350
Are there things in this list that you hadn’t considered? It all adds up.
Ok, now that I've said all of that, please adopt a dog. It is a wonderful experience - Just do it in an informed way.